Day 2 in Dharamshala was taken up with a 70km drive to Palampur, tea capital of India, and a bit further on to see a temple to the Lord Shiva. Not much wow factor today but it’s fun just driving around and observing everyday life from the comfy seat of an air-conditioned vehicle. Our first stop was this art museum with the breathtaking view you see above. On duty at the front desk was Jit’s cousin, who had no qualms about being photographed with his rifle. None of them do. I’ve seen that many military camps and barracks: soldiers are everywhere and they’re always armed but not menacing. India apparently has the fourth biggest army in the world after China, Russia and the USA. (I think that’s the right order. Military buffs, feel free to correct me. )
Then it was on to a spot where we got out to walk through a tea plantation and discuss the meaning of life, inspired by the sign on this tree. I must be going soft, because I got all warm and fuzzy about it.
Jit was the perfect companion for such a place and time. Born a Hindu in the valley below Dharamshala, he’s rejected most of the rituals and superstition and now has a philosophy that mixes the best bits of Hinduism and Buddhism and includes yoga, meditation and the conservation of nature.
He was a wise man with a sunny disposition yet when we discussed the ubiquitous rubbish and pollution and the lack of action or even ideas about it, he was surprisingly pessimistic about the future of humankind, saying he thought our time on earth was over. At the same time, he told me, he sometimes invests in lollies with which he bribes little children to clean up the rubbish in his neighbourhood, which he says is just like this, by the way: mostly mud-brick houses in the middle of fields of crops. He says his lolly scheme worked too well; now the kids come to him soliciting them, but he can only afford so many.
Then it was on to our main destination – the Shiva temple, built in the 18th century. As I said, it had nothing much of interest to recommend it except perhaps the fortress-like design, and yes, the shape. Jit mentioned the word ‘lingam’ but I being a well-bred repressed European lady in the presence of a younger man did not inquire further on that score. Inside the temple was a not particularly impressive statue of the Buddha, which I saw from the entrance. He wasn’t impressive enough (after the splendours of Nepal and Kathmandu) to warrant the taking off of my shoes, which I don’t generally like doing anyway unless, as at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, it’s to bathe them in a pool of nice cool water.
There were more beggars here than I’ve seen anywhere else so far. This boy belonged to a small group of dark people, differently dressed from the locals like Jit. He said they were probably tribes people living a gypsy life. I didn’t dare aim the camera at them. This little fella was persistent enough with his demands; God knows what the adults would have been like.
His persistence paid off. Here I am already fumbling in my backpack for my wallet. I gave him 5 rupees. Whereupon he turned his back and skedaddled. Not so much as a ‘namaste’, let alone a ‘thank you’! I was soon set upon by other observant urchins but my well of charity had dried right up.
Friend Fifi has been observing my wholesome but meagre diet, including no doubt the breakfast buffet scavengings, and urging me to be more indulgent and adventurous in this land where food is both cheap and delicious. First of all, most of the breakfasts and dinners are included. (In Bhutan all meals were.) In India we’ve been going out for lunch, and I was initially put off by that 750 rupee curry in Amritsar which I ate on my own because the driver could never afford that, and the other day that nice pizza on the way to Dharamshala that was just over 210 ($A4.50), also unaffordable by my driver! But on this last day in Dharmshala I told Jit I’d be happy to eat at any little street place as long as it was cooked food. So we went to this Tibetan joint where a plate of ‘momos’ – dumplings – came with the requisite condiments for a grand total of 170 rupees for both of us! And for once I was able to eat with my guide, which I much prefer to do. I tried to pay for Jit’s meal but he wouldn’t let me. Well, I made him keep the change but he later insisted on paying for drinks all round from this lady who operates her sugarcane press by the side of the road, into which she feeds cane, ice, mint and whole sweet little limes. It was delicious!
Then it was back to the darling Grace Hotel for my last night in Dharmshala. It’s not clear from the photo above but those pale streaks running down the mountainside across the geological strata are streams of rubbish dumped by the people living on the hilltops.
And because of the excellent dumpling lunch, I still didn’t eat those eggs!